The Tuesday after the first Monday in November became Election Day in the United States largely by default. When uniform day for presidential elections was set in the 19th century, the country was mostly a Christian, rural, agrarian society. Sunday was for worship, Wednesday was a market day, and because some people would have to travel long distances to the polls, Monday and Thursday were out, too. So, Tuesday it became—specifically a Tuesday that wouldn’t conflict with the farming calendar or the worst of winter’s weather. (And never November 1, All Saints Day, hence why it is not the first Tuesday, but the Tuesday after the first Monday.)

In 2023, Election Day will not feature a presidential vote, but there are still hundreds of state and local contests. In honor of these voters, we dove into the Atlas Obscura archives for the best, worst (sorry), and most memorable election stories from around the world.

The Photographer Who Captured Black Voters for Decades in Pittsburgh

by Anika Burgess

Throughout the course of his prolific, 40-year career, photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris amassed an extraordinary archive of nearly 80,000 negatives. Starting in the 1930s, Harris documented Pittsburgh’s Black community for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s leading Black newspapers. His photos capture the political process over several decades, including the organization around the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Election cake was meant to be dense, rich, and filling. Elections themselves aren't always so satisfying.
Election cake was meant to be dense, rich, and filling. Elections themselves aren’t always so satisfying. Anne Ewbank/Atlas Obscura

Reviving America’s Forgotten Boozy, Fruity Election Cake

by Anne Ewbank, Senior Associate Editor, Gastro Obscura

In the pages of Amelia Simmons’s 1796 American Cookery, the United States’ first-known cookbook, you’ll find quite a few recipes that seem familiar. There’s pumpkin pie, roast turkey, even the “cookey.” But one recipe stands out, both due to its name and its gargantuan proportions: the Election Cake. The recipe calls for 14 pounds of sugar, 12 pounds of raisins, and oodles of spices, along with both wine and brandy. These rich ingredients, expensive and rare when the book was published, speak to how Election Day used to be celebrated.

Why Coconuts Were Accused of Meddling in Politics

by Paula Mejia

On the heels of the Maldivian presidential election in the Maldives in September 2013, police investigated an entity accused of rigging the entire thing. They didn’t question a disgruntled campaign manager, though, or place a mole in a hacker collective. Instead, authorities took a coconut into custody. Its crime? Possible involvement in a black magic ritual with electoral consequences.

Zio Sam vuole che tu voti.

The Italian Village of La California Hosted Its Own American Elections

by Guia Cortassa

In the mid-19th century, about the time of the California Gold Rush, a small plot of land on Italy’s Tuscan Coast took the name “La California.” Over the centuries, the link between La California and the United States remained strong—so strong that in 2004 the Tuscan village hosted the first unauthorized polling station for an American presidential election outside the United States, or so it claims.

The Persistent Mystery of How Many People Vote for Santa Claus

by Dan Nosowitz

Every election, there are a number of votes that are tabulated but go uncounted. In other words, no one knows how many votes in a presidential election go to fictional characters, inanimate objects, or other ineligible people or concepts. Not even Santa Claus knows how many votes the Christmas icon got in either 2008 or 2012, when he was legally registered with the Federal Election Commission as a write-in candidate in just over a dozen states.

A Map of Some of the Most Disastrous Elections in History

by Mariana Zapata

Starting with Julius Caesar’s corrupt campaign for his election as consul, and through the line of history, this map illustrates some of these most disastrous elections—filled with scandals, bad decisions, the folly of voters.